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In her time as CEO of LSSND, Jessica Thomasson helped grow the organization to serve nearly every county in the state and launched programs that met the needs of an ever-changing culture.
But during a farewell gathering Thursday, Jan. 23 in Fargo, Thomasson chalked up her successes to good luck and a good team.
“I’ve gotten to do things that are way too hard for me, so it’s always pushed me to figure out how to do the next thing, which is a gift,” Thomasson told guests. “It’s a gift to be able to have that opportunity, to have people around you, who can equip you to help you figure out how to do that next thing. And this group at Lutheran Social Services really does embody that."
Around 100 LSS staff, community leaders and well-wishers honored Thomasson at the Fargo Program Center event. She left the agency Friday to become Director of Community Inclusion for the North Dakota Department of Human Services. Eric Monson will serve as interim head of LSSND until a new CEO is in place.
Favored early intervention to avoid full-blown crisis
Thomasson first came to LSSND in 2008 to help set up its affordable-housing program. Back then, LSSND had a budget of $7.5 million and offered a handful of programs and offices across the state.
Thomasson became head of the organization in 2014. Today, LSSND’s has grown to 330+ employees overseeing 11 service areas and a budget between $24 and $25 million.
Under Thomasson's guidance, the agency has responded to changing needs with many new programs. That includes services like care-coordination to help our aging population stay in their own homes longer and a statewide mental-health network that offers Abound Counseling, telehealth, peer support and Imagine Thriving Community-Based Services, Community Outreach and Skills Coaching.
Thomasson promoted the idea of "meeting people where they're at" and early intervention. For instance, community-based Family Support Hubs aim to provide the right level of family-coaching at "fork-in-the-road" moments, rather than waiting until problems spiral into full-blown crises. "We all need a little bit of help sometimes, and there's nothing wrong with that," Thomasson said. "We don't let our adversity define us."
She believed it was the agency's mission to walk with people during their time of need and then let them go, armed with new skills and strength to face the future.
Always a student, reader and listener
Thomasson told guests that one of her guiding principles was the metaphor of the labyrinth, which can be navigated as long as the person traveling it stays focused on their destination. “You may know where it is you want to go, but you may not know how to get there. But really it doesn’t matter. You just do what God puts in front of you. … that is a beautiful way to navigate uncertainty," she said.
During the program, Janell Regimbal, vice president of LSSND Children's Services, described Thomasson as an avid reader, conscientious note-taker and lifetime learner.
"She learns by being the person who asks the best questions in the room and, I would argue, likely listens better than anyone in the room." – Janell Regimbal.
"It's from that listening, learning and inquisitive nature and keen mind that all of us here at Lutheran Social Services have benefitted greatly," Regimbal added.
Shirley Dykshoorn, vice president of Senior and Humanitarian Services at LSS, presented Thomasson with the staff gift – custom metal artwork of a tree by local artist Liz Walberg.
Dykshoorn said one of Thomasson’s greatest assets as a leader was making every individual feel like they mattered.
“The thing that I feel from all of the staff at LSS is that Jessica really values all of us. And she really values all of the people we serve. Bless you for all your hard work on our behalf."